Bartenders are a special breed of cat.
They are more than mere dispensers of alcohol, if that was the sum of their worth they would command the same paycheck as a liquor store clerk. No, a bartender bears a much heavier burden—he is alchemist, host, entertainer, psychiatrist, enforcer, surrogate kin, social enabler and the keeper of the hearth. To a drunkard, he is no less than the gatekeeper of paradise.
And with that grandiose title comes a grave amount of power. Some bear it magnificently, some less so. To return to the feline analogy, they come in many different breeds, running the gamut from Siberian Tigers to suburban Tabbys. From the bowtied gentlemen manning the bar at Harry’s in Paris to the rough-trade boys working the dives, from the lifers to the kids working their way through college. A dedicated drinker is likely to cross paths with dozens of variations in his lifetime, and being able to identify those variations, those different and strange breeds, will always work toward his advantage.
This high-speed technician can be brusque and impatient with the indecisive, but he is a wonder to behold. Without a single wasted motion, he can assemble fifteen different drinks in less time than it takes to dig the wadded up bills out of your pocket. Any sense of mystery and wonder about mixology that you may have walked in with will be crushed after watching this speed merchant crank them out like so many sprockets. He isn’t much for conversation and you may feel a little uncomfortable sitting across the bar from him (what if one of his valves gets stuck and he explodes?), but you won’t be wanting for a drink either. Stick around long enough and you may start getting the inkling that he views you not as a fellow human being, but just another tiny cog in the drink factory that is the bar.
Pros: Inhuman speed, dazzling performance.
Cons: Mixes can be sloppy, you may feel dehumanized.
Turf: High volume bars.
What he says: “Quick, whatreyouhavin?”
What he means: “Turn, you goddamn cog, turn!
She’s only interested in one thing, and it’s in your pants. More specifically, it’s in your wallet. She’ll play it coy until she figures out what sort of tipper you are. If you tip well, she’ll put you on a pedestal and make you feel like a prince. Average tippers get average service. Bad tippers get exactly what they deserve.
It’s true capitalism at work and you’ll always come out ahead if you grease the wheels properly and ignore the dark calculations behind that brilliant smile.
Pros: Superior service can be bought.
Cons: Superior service must be bought.
What she says: “This one’s on the house.”
What she means: “Keep the moolah flowing and we’ll leave the till out of this.”
The Ladies’ Man
If you’re a woman, you’ll think the world of this sport. He’ll always make sure you’re served first, are never wanting for conversation (thought it may turn sleazy at some point), and he’ll let more than a few free drinks slide your way. If you’re a guy? Crack a book, because you’re going to wait. Oh, don’t worry, he sees you and your empty glass, he just finds it physically impossible to tear himself away from the fantastic story he’s laying on the babes at the end of the bar.
Pros: Hooks up the ladies.
Cons: Selective service, unoriginal macho energy.
What he says: “Didn’t see you down there. What’re you doing, jumping jacks?”
What he means: “You need to grow some tits.”
Turf: Strip mall dives.
The Bar God
He towers (at least in his mind) behind the bar like Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, lord of all he surveys. He is competent, to be sure, but behind that competence lurks contempt. All the Bar God wants to do is run a proper bar, but instead of decent customers, all he ever seems to get are amateur drunks, nabobs, suburban assholes, rummies, dumbfucks and shitheels.
No matter what you order, you get the feeling you’re being judged. And the verdict is in: You’re a retard. Light beer? You’re a pansy. Guinness? You’re a poser. Jack neat? You goddamn lush. Jager shot? Trendy fuck! He will barely conceal his sneer as you peruse the forest of taps, he harbors the idea that no one should be allowed in a bar unless they can pass an extensive oral and written exam. Yes, he knows how to make a Pousse Cafe, you peasant, but he’ll bristle at the request. Why? Because you’re going to fuck up his work of art by drinking it!
Pros: Knows all the drinks, will reward big tips.
Cons: Glowering arrogance, will leave you feeling unwanted.
What he says: “An extra lime? Seriously?”
What he means: “Gin and tonics get exactly one lime, you fucking mongoloid.”
Turf: Downtown bars.
This gent doesn’t look at bartending as just a way to pay the rent, he approaches it as an exotic and very necessary art. A virtuoso among dilettantes, he towers above run-of-the-mill drink-slingers the way a professional safecracker lords over so many junky purse snatchers. He’s the bartender in The Shining, minus the diabolical backstory. Natty of attire, calm of temper, worldly of knowledge, he is every drinker’s dream. He most likely has a collection of cocktail guides dating from the turn of the century, and he’s read them all. He’s an active alchemist, constantly experimenting with new combinations, ever searching for the ultimate libation. He understands that a perfectly prepared cocktail is one of the closest thing to heaven we’ll find on this mortal coil.
Pros: Polite, masterful, will reaffirm your faith in a higher power.
Cons: Formality can make some drinkers uncomfortable, may be a Bar God in disguise.
What he says: “What is your pleasure, sir?”
What he means: “I’m going to show you how good it can be.”
Turf: Anywhere, but tends to gravitate toward upscale hotel bars.
The Grizzled Veteran
This guy got into the business back when they used tree bark for coasters. He possesses a wealth of drinking lore and has a story for every situation. His world-weariness and sense of acquired dignity might not make for lightning speed, but he’s very unlikely to screw up your drink. Just don’t get on his bad side, because the Veteran will hold a grudge and never forgets bad behavior.
Cons: Tends to favor regulars, can get grumpy.
Pros: Well of wisdom, calm and competent service, doesn’t rattle under pressure.
What he says: “John Wayne used to drink in here.”
What he means: “You ain’t no John Wayne.”
Turf: Dives, neighborhood bars.
The female counterpart of the Ladies’ Man, this barroom beauty plays the sex card every chance she gets. Why go through the hassle of learning bar skills when she can steamroll her miscues with giggles and baby talk? Managers love this type because she draws lonely men into the bar and lonely men tend to drink a lot of booze. So she screws up half her orders and is slower than Grandma Moses pulling a locomotive? She’s got big tits!
Pros: Pleasing to the eye, always upbeat, creates impression she might go out with you.
Cons: Slow, incompetent, will not go out with you.
What she says: “Oopsie! Did I mess up your little drinkie-poo?”
What she means: “Just look at my tits and it’ll taste fine.”
Your Best Pal
You’ll want to build bridges with this one. She’s not just there to suck up your tips, she’s there to have a good time. She brings an infectious joie de vie to the job and gives the impression she’s more allied to the customers than the bar. She may not be the till’s buddy, but she’s definitely yours. No matter how serious an infraction occurred while your were blacked out, she will always welcome you back and joke about it the next day. Heavy with the pour, quick with the comp, the pressures of the profession have yet to crack her spirit and render her cynical. Enjoy her while you can because this bartender usually has a professional life span of about three years.
Pros: Heavy pours, frequent comps, creates a fun atmosphere.
Cons: Bar may spiral into anarchy, not long for this world.
What she says: “That was a hell of a fire you started last night! Burnt down half the bar, as you can see. The usual?”
What she means: “They pay me to party! Woo-hoo!”
Turf: Neighborhood bars.
The Plastic Smile
When you first come in contact with this robot, you may feel the urge to look around to make sure you didn’t accidentally walk into suburban Burger King. They’ve read the manual and are overly-friendly to the point of desperation —behind the forced and gruesome smile you sense the manager is holding a gun to the head of the Plastic Smile’s only child, swearing he’ll pull the trigger if a single customer acts displeased. This sort is usually created by aggressive management and possesses a powerful fetish about you using a coaster. Expect to be asked, “How’s your beer, sir? Okay?” after your first sip.
Pros: Fast service, zero ego.
Cons: Will not overpour, zero personality.
What he says: “Would you like fries, er, a lime with that?”
What he means: “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?
Turf: Chain bars.
The Show Off
You immediately get the impression this guy sat through one too many viewings of Cocktail. He’s not a bartender on shift, he’s a performer on stage. He flings bottles in the air like a juggler, he makes a big production out of popping the cap off a bottle of Bud. He even pours beer with a flourish. And he’s going to be a star, damn you, just as soon his lazy goddamn agent gets off his fat ass and finds him a soap opera gig. But until then, he’s the star and you’re the undeserving public.
Pros: Fun to watch him fuck up.
Cons: Sloppy drinks, slow service.
What he says: “Whoa, look out! Did I get any on you?”
What he means: “My razzle dazzle is wasted on these oafs.”
Turf: Dance clubs, trendy bars.
She hates her job, she hates her boss, she hates her customers, and she doesn’t mind cluing you in to the fact. Oh, why, oh why did she end up at this stinking shithole? Surrounded by shitheels? Watching her labor over a drink is akin to watching a manic-depressive postal employee push a granite boulder up a sheer cliff. If you attempt to commiserate with her, she’ll try to get you to fight one of her many “enemies,” some of whom may be regulars.
Pros: Will overpour and comp if you can get her riled up about the management.
Cons: Will suck the life force right out of you.
What she says: “Oh my fucking God! Will this shift ever end?”
What she means: “Oh my fucking God! Will this shift ever end?”
Turf: Low traffic dives.
The Frazzled Novice
You will know him by the deer-in-the-headlights stare he’ll give you as you approach the bar. This poor soul is new to the trade and is terrified he’ll make you want to kill him by screwing up your vodka neat. A drink without the ingredients in the name will send him scrambling for his Mr. Boston’s. Asking for a martini will paralyze him with sheer terror. He has his advantages, however. Unless there is powerful management presence, he can be bent to your will, i.e.: “You almost got this Jack and Coke perfect, except you wanna just fill the sucker to brim with whiskey and just barely splash in the Coke.” Nurture him along and he may turn into Your Best Pal.
Pros: Can be manipulated.
Cons: Slow, incompetent, too scared to be conversational.
What he says: “Vodka tonic? What goes in that?”
What he means: “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”
Turf: Low traffic and chain bars.
He loves his regulars and they love him. He hooks them up and sticks it to everyone else. It’s very simular to a high school clique—if you catch him by himself he’ll be cool, but once he’s with his buddies, he’ll look right through you. A very distinct class system is in place and if you’re new to the scene you possess as much power as the broken ashtray under the beer cooler. The secret, of course, is to become a regular. This may require five years of your life.
Pros: Loyal to a fault.
Cons: Takes loads of time to get into his good graces.
What he says: “You’re new around here.”
What he means: “You will be considered new around here until that barstool has been permanently imprinted with the shape of your ass.”